As I let you guys know the other day, the sleeping beauty retelling was finished on Sunday. Here are some stats for the book, the origin story, and my feelings about the process.
Original Idea: Conceived in September 2010 because of this song by Florence and the Machine. It was clearly about Sleeping Beauty even though it directly references Snow White. At first I fell in love with the song because I thought some of the lyrics went ‘No more dreaming like a ghost/So in love with the wrong world.’ I loved the idea of the dead still in love with the living world. Then I realized the lyrics were actually ‘dreaming like a girl’, and that pretty much just made my mind explode.
What world was the girl in love with? Was it the past? Then came The Question: What if Sleeping Beauty woke up and didn’t remember her former life? Would she even believe whoever told her what really happened a hundred years ago? What if they lied to her? How would she know?
Previously I’d had a story idea sort of inspired by the relationship between the Hatter and Alice in the Alice in Wonderland movie that came out recently. Two characters in an abandoned castle, almost in love but haunted by relationships in their past. So when I started the first experimental writing, I borrowed the abandoned tower and the sorrowful nostalgia. Everything grew from there.
As I moved through the first few chapters, I realized I’d written myself into a mystery that even I didn’t know the answer to. There were so many possibilities and motivations that it seemed overwhelming. So I shared my tentative story ideas with my boyfriend, Chris. We were in a video game phase, and played Tetris against each other for hours, talking through plot options and how the different character related to each other. Then we watched the movie Charlie Wilson’s War, which inspired the insight into some groups of character’s motivations. A plot was born.
Idea Approved: I didn’t have a fully-planned-out novel at that point, but I had an idea I was in love with, and about 7,000 words. At the same time, I’d also been working on a concept called SOULMANCER, about a boy whose soul gets snagged on the soul of his female best friend after a magical ‘execution’ of sorts that should have killed him. But something wasn’t quite right with the story. I sent my agent both ‘pitches’ anyway (long queries that didn’t tell the ending). She wrote back that she was leaning more towards the sleeping beauty story, and in that moment I realized that’s what I’d been hoping for. I literally jumped up and down with excitement because I had approval to work on the idea that I really wanted.
That was in January.
The Writing: But despite how much I loved the story, I had a first obligation to my novel of 7 years, NAMELESS. And after my agent gave me her thoughts on the revisions I’d sent her, I had to go back into the editing cave and leave ROSES OF ASH alone.
But it didn’t really work like that. When I was frustrated with NAMELESS I found relief in the plot twists of ROSES OF ASH. It’s the first young adult novel I’ve written with actual fight scenes and a rapidly-moving plot. Something was always happening, someone’s loyalties being challenged, some secret being revealed. I fell asleep thinking about sleeping beauty and her struggles. So when it was time to send off a partial of NAMELESS to my agent to make sure I was on the right track with voice, I relished the opportunity to give non-guilty focus to ROSES.
Over the long weekend, I decided that I was absolutely going to finish working on the book. I had recently figured out the ending (after a few delicate days where I thought I’d be stalled on the book forever), and knew precisely where I was going. This allowed me to write 6,000 words on Saturday and 4,000 words on Sunday.
And then I was done. I wrote each scene when I was really feeling it, which had me alternately getting goose bumps and flashes of adrenaline and crying. I finished up the ending which resolved itself on that hopeful note I’m fond of, then went back and added in a secondary character I’d needed, then it was done, done, totally done.
Cue huge sigh of relief. :-)
I thought I’d end up at about 70k, and it came close, at 66k. Maybe with revisions it’ll climb up there and be firmly in the middle of the ‘sweet spot’, but 66k is definitely respectable for YA.
The Reflection: ROSES OF ASH is the first book I’ve written since signing with my agent. Everything has been NAMELESS focused for the past two years, and at times I thought I’d never have another idea. When I was working on SOULMANCER I even remember struggling moving on from NAMELESS. At one time I told SOULMANCER, inside my mind, that I would never love it as much as NAMELESS. Talk about self-destructive tendencies. Because subconsciously I knew there was something not quite right. I never had that problem with ROSES OF ASH.
ROSES OF ASH reminded me that I’m a writer through and through. I fell absolutely in love with this story, and have been rereading it non-stop since finishing. Plus, holy cow, 6k in one day?! That’s definitely a personal best. I sat down and wrote for 6 hours straight. It was incredible.
This is also a project that hasn’t had much outside influence. By that I mean that no one was reading it as I went. Yes, I kept Chris updated on all my plot changes, and yes I did post some excerpts, but I didn’t have a CP I was sending chapters to and waiting for comments every time (like I do with NAMELESS revisions). I’ve been thinking a lot about what writers mean when they say that they have to feel like a work is private before they can work on it.
Because my work has never been ‘private’. Even when I was writing the first draft of NAMELESS I was sharing chapters on Fictionpress, sometimes just moments after I finished them. I’m always thinking of my audience as I write, but usually it’s thoughts like ‘Omg I can’t wait to share this with everyone; it’s so awesome and I know they’re gonna love it!’. It’s never ‘What if they don’t like it?’ or ‘What if I can’t pull this off?’ I guess I’ve had such positive feedback from readers over the years that I have faith your approval will be there; that’s not even something I worry about at all.
Lately I’ve been reading a non-fiction book about writing that talks a lot about how our writing is an expression and reflection of ourselves, and we sort out our own issues through it. When I came upon the final chapters of ROSES OF ASH, two of my characters had an argument that threatened to leave them separated forever. One of my MC’s constant complaints in the book is that people keep lying to her, to ‘protect her’. Even when the lies are made in order to prevent her pain, she can’t stand it.
And I realized I’m the same way. I had a few experiences growing up that taught me that I absolutely cannot stand to be lied to for my own protection. Living a lie is far worse, to me, than the pain of knowing the truth, whatever it is. Living a lie means that not only are my experiences false, but my emotions are too. And there’s a sense of embarrassment that goes along with it: I feel this way, and was confident in the way I felt, but if I had known the whole truth I would have felt completely different. Whoever lied to me took that dignity away from me.
The past is incredibly important to me. I try to make sure I honor my younger self, and don’t violate the intentions and dreams I had. When my MC would do anything to get back what she lost, she is carrying my fears and desires with her. I would fight like crazy to get back the memory of someone I loved and can no longer remember. In the end, memory is all we have. If no one can remember someone, they might as well never have existed. Memory is a fight against death, in a way. And my MC is someone who clings to life.
The Future: So what’s the plan? I’ve sent ROSES OF ASH to begin making the rounds with the CPs. When I have their approval, off it shall go to my agent for her thoughts. In the meantime, I’m finishing up NAMELESS revisions notes and tentatively planning a sequel to ROSES. The deal with sequels and trilogies is that you shouldn’t write them until the first book sells. So I’m creating outlines and working on the scenes I absolutely MUST, but not planning to focus on it seriously until I get approval.
So, that’s the complete story. Any questions?